Nylons and Midriffs: Cards on the Table (June 3, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs
Image credit: sportskeeda.com

It’s time to lay it out, friends. This week, we’re taking a step back for once to consider the women’s and larger wrestling scenes at large. Because it would be nearly impossible not to in my opinion, we’ll unpack the implications of AEW as a startup company — what the brand’s existence may mean for some of the women on the roster.

Full disclosure, I was not able to watch Double or Nothing. I didn’t realize the show would not be available for replay on YouTube. So, my consideration of AEW’s women’s division unfortunately won’t include wrestling. Nevertheless, there are still some general thoughts to share.

Let us waste no time!

The Good
I will start off by giving praise to the woman behind the scenes of AEW, a trailblazer in her role: Brandi Rhodes. I came across a post of hers on Instagram in the midst of DoN weekend, and it made me warm to see that she very much acknowledges the unique position she is in as Chief Branding Officer of All Elite Wrestling.

In her own words, she is one of (if not the) first of her kind: a black woman in a notable position of power behind the scenes of a wrestling promotion. Black women, first and foremost, are lucky if they are featured favorably on any wrestling show. To know that someone with a doubly marginalized identity is holding the branding of AEW in their hands is very heartening, and serves as an example of what true inclusion looks like in the rooms where major decisions happen.

In addition, we were given a glimpse of Brandi’s perspective on “colorblindness” in a clip of her husband, Co-Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes, talking to press about AEW’s plan for diversity. Catching general media attention because of a retweet by one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cody explains in the clip that Brandi helped him to see that colorblindness in terms of race ultimately just erases the specific experiences (and thus, racism) that people of color face everyday. This acknowledgement gave me even more confidence that Brandi is genuine and seems to want inclusion for the brand that she will have a part in promoting. So hats off to you, Mrs. Rhodes!

Back on the WWE side, sadly not much to report. However, there were a few glimmers in the darkness. I want to highlight Becky Lynch, for giving the fire in every one of her matches, no matter how (in)significant it may be.

Image credit: WWE.com

Even in tag matches where she gains essentially nothing from winning, it is fascinating to watch how much she tries to put herself and everyone in the match over. Becky has a natural charisma that it appears she can’t turn off, which is obviously ideal in a champion.

I enjoyed, too, the bits that were done this past week between Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans. I have spoken previously about how similar the two are and, as commentary has as well, it looks like WWE is being more overt in having the two work together. The looks that they served together during their tea time — yikes! Such catty girls, and I feel a little ashamed in admitting that I liked it (despite my feelings about both of them). And, seeing the two turn on each other makes for a potentially interesting story, if the writers should decide to continue it. Although it is rare nowadays, it really does pay off when heels turn on other heels. In my opinion, it drives home even more the reason we’re to believe that they’re bad — because they hate everyone, not just good guys. That is what separates two dimensions from three.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE.com

Here is where the so-called “Wild Card Rule” comes into play. We’ve seen now what this looks like for all divisions, and here is the verdict: it is doing the exact opposite of what it supposedly aimed to fix, which was to make things less predictable on weekly TV.

As we’ve seen, the Wild Card Rule is just an excuse to have the same handful of Superstars appear on both brands, rather than creating any variety in who is shuffled into the mix every week. And for the women, it appears the only people we see partake in the rule are Becky and Lacey. Instead of giving new women the opportunity to fight and feud with women they haven’t before, we are getting the same four or five women in matches in different combinations. And yes, while we see women in other match-ups, they still feel very haphazard. The women vying for the main event titles take leaps of storyline development, while everyone else crawls or even stumbles on any stories they may have going.

Ugh. I hope this “rule” doesn’t last for too much longer.

The Thorny
I want to talk here about the hostile work environment that WWE has fostered, that we as fans have come to expect from the company.

As Double or Nothing aired, obviously, social media was abuzz. WWE Superstars were certainly not exempt from this. I saw a good many stars use their Twitter on the day of the event to either express their good luck wishes to those involved, or live-tweet reactions that vaguely alluded to their marking out at the event.

And maybe it was the algorithm of my Twitter feed, but I noticed that a sizable number of these subtweets came from the female Superstars of the roster. We had Sasha Banks who outright named wrestlers as they went out on the card, Peyton Royce cheering on real-life boyfriend Shawn Spears (formerly Tye Dillinger), Bayley expressing excitement at the future of wrestling, and Naomi flat-out saying that she watched the event. In a strange way, this renewed my hope that these women do, in fact, love what they do. They are simply caught in the crosshairs of a company that refuses to let them go, despite giving very few of them real, substantive pushes.

We had fans making comical remarks under each of these tweets saying that WWE would be soon to fire the Superstar in question over their support of the rival product. And isn’t that twisted?

Some have analyzed this situation at face value as a matter of professionalism. Surely someone working for Pepsi wouldn’t allude to Coke being good on a public platform, right? However, it is my opinion that never speaking positively of your competition, or even demeaning their success, is old hat.

I believe the Superstars of today, in line with their generation of Millennials, are more apt to uplift their “competition” because they recognize that doing so will still ultimately uplift the industry in question. There are exceptions to this, obviously. But, we see this happening every day. Athletes paying each other respect in other sports, influencers complimenting the work of another in a similar field, female writers and politicians and entertainers retweeting and promoting others’ work on their own platforms.

Within the practice of feminism, it is held as a belief that women should uplift other women, especially those in disadvantaged positions. The same applies here, and I think many of the aforementioned women (whether they knew it or not) were embodying this during DoN. Watching other people shine shouldn’t ruin your personal shine. In fact, it should help motivate you to shine brighter.

Why, then, is there a legitimate fear that WWE Superstars and the most vulnerable among them (that being women and people of color) could be putting their jobs in jeopardy simply for being a fan of their own sport?

The insidious thing here is that WWE is asking their talent to be complicit in squashing competition, if only by pretending it doesn’t exist. Knowing that there is another viable option outside of WWE for the women in the locker room can push them to be better versions of themselves or seek out the grass on the other side.

GIF credit: tenor.com

WWE currently is not allowing for either, which is likely creating a bubbling, resentful women’s locker room. My dream for the women of WWE is for them to be allowed to love what they do and actually do it every week, without limitations, without pretending, and without complicity in holding women in other promotions down.

We are not free until we are all free.

***

I look forward to the TV deal that AEW has established with TNT, because it means that I can see with my own eyes what this product is about. Although it is months away, that threat of competition for WWE will surely make my eye more critical week to week. Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: The More Things Change…. (May 7, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: est143.blogspot.com

Greetings good wrestling fans. I hope the weather has started to warm up wherever you may be! In the post-Superstar Shakeup world of WWE, things in many ways are heating up. But, for some female Superstars, things are….well, a prolonged winter in May, to say the least.

Unlike most weeks, we’ll discuss how the Good, Bad, and Thorny are somewhat related to each other. I believe that the positives have made the negatives more glaring, and vice versa.

The Good

Image credit: SEScoops.com

The general good happening with the new RAW and Smackdown women’s rosters is that the spotlight is being shone on women in different ways then it had been previously. Particularly on the Smackdown side, we have seen Bayley re-emphasized as a singles competitor, and Asuka and Kairi Sane re-imagined as tag-team partners. We’ve seen these three women featured more prominently on the show since the Shakeup, and I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say that this is a welcome change of pace.

Further, it’s Bayley specifically I am really impressed with. In two consecutive weeks on Smackdown, Bayley faced off against her Four Horsewomen counterparts (the fourth of whom is still jarringly absent from TV), and in each showing she fought with heart and fire that we haven’t seen arguably since her NXT days.

Image credit: WWE.com

It is a shame that I’d actually forgotten just how good she is from a purely in-ring standpoint. WWE as well have allowed her to show more tenacity on Smackdown, which hopefully will translate into a Seth Rollins-esque babyface climb to the top. Only time will tell, of course, but things at least look promising as of now.

To continue with Smackdown praise, the “B” show continues to outgrade RAW when it comes to women’s segments. It feels as if every women’s segment has intention, serving a larger storytelling purpose (even if the quality of said stories isn’t always ideal). When watching Smackdown, I get the sense that the writers see the women as an actual part of the show to be seen throughout, not simply filler between men’s segments or afterthoughts. The majority of the women on the Smackdown roster has at least some sort of story going at the moment, and you can see where things can logically go with each of their feuds. There is Kairi and Asuka going for the IIconics’ tag belts, Becky interacting with Charlotte, even Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose stewing up a rivalry. In varying degrees, most Smackdown women feel important to the writing and pacing of the show itself. In turn, it makes the show more desirable to watch than RAW. And speaking of…

The Bad
It is baffling that on the show with an entire extra hour to work with, there seems to be a problem with making the women feel important rather than obligatory. Without Sasha Banks (and some may argue, even with her), the RAW women’s division is shallow. To add to the shallowness of the division, the writers can only seem to create women’s segments wherein the women featured are only sniping at each other to lead into a two-minute match. It is so odd, and actually a little infuriating when you stop to consider just how much more the women could be given to work with every week in comparison to some of the downright buffoonish men’s segments we see.

Image credit: fightful.com

And in regard to the aforementioned two-minute matches — what are we doing here? It is 2019. The fact that RAW consistently delivers women’s matches (and even segments) in under five minutes should be ridiculed as unacceptable. I can’t say that I am shocked that WWE has continued the legacy of “bathroom break” matches on their flagship show, but it certainly makes evident that the writers have a long way to go in the realm of positive female representation.

The Thorny
Revisiting a familiar theme to this section, I once again must express my boredom for the current title picture for the RAW and Smackdown women’s belts. We have Becky Lynch facing off against Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans, two physically sculpted, tanned, and conventionally attractive blonde white women. I understand that Becky’s “The Man” gimmick has historically gone over better when her foil is someone like Lacey or Charlotte, a heel that fans can loathe for being exactly what I’ve described. But it continues to be shocking just how lazy these feuds shape up to be. WWE is taking the easy way out by doing what they’ve always done, and the rest of the women’s roster pays for it.

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

In the media landscape of today, we have entered a moment of “meta.” Showrunners work subtle and not-so-subtle racism, sexism, etc. into their storylines and call it an intentional choice to potentially “expose” or portray how commonplace said things are in our everyday interactions and systems. There is a self-awareness that feels almost self-congratulatory; these writers believe that because they are in on their own joke that it nullifies the impact of the representation of whatever oppression they aim to realistically depict.

The problem with this approach is that it is often done without the consultation of the oppressed groups targeted by the negative portrayal. And thus, the depiction only works to confirm in real life the biases being written for fiction. This comes across often in the form of premature character deaths for women, queer folk, or people of color before they’ve satisfactorily completed their story arcs, or invisibility of these people on the shows altogether (looking at you Game of Thrones).

So, in looking at the women’s division, WWE is now smart to the fact that fans have caught on to their favoritism toward blonde white women. They now subtly work our smark critiques of this bias into the character development of these women, and in turn their pushes to the top. But ultimately, WWE now embracing this tendency within the confines of storyline does not somehow negate the effect that this continues to have on a sizable portion of their women’s locker room. A spade is a spade. Oppression on a smiling, joking, knowing face is still oppression. And we should still treat it as such.

***

I am looking forward to Money in the Bank; it is usually a memorable pay-per-view, if only for the ladder matches themselves. For storyline reasons, I’m ready to get it over with, in the hope that something fresh awaits around the corner.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Boss of Who? (April 22, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: stillrealtous.com

It has been an interesting two weeks since WrestleMania for the women’s division. I know the drama surrounding a certain female wrestler has filled the dirt sheets for the better part of that time (and don’t worry, we’ll get to that), but in the midst of that controversy, there was also a Superstar Shakeup.

Title unification for both women’s titles is ostensibly out of the question for now, so how did things shake out for the ladies? Let us consider together.

The Good

Image credit: newsweek.com

The only real good I saw in the past weeks’ RAW and SmackDown Live episodes was that SmackDown’s division is shaping up nicely. Formerly the smaller division of the two brands, SmackDown finally got some big names to freshen up the matches and rivalries. They got work-rate girls like Bayley, Ember Moon, and Kairi Sane, but also some padding for the middle of the division like Liv Morgan. The roster now feels like it has layers, something it was missing before WrestleMania.

Unfortunately, that is where I will have to end this section. Because while it is good that SmackDown’s division is now stacked, that leads me to…

The Bad
…the RAW women’s division. The worst thing about the Shakeup for the women was that it left the brands severely unbalanced. The biggest name RAW got was Naomi, which is a start but it isn’t great. Sitting to ponder, I am actually struggling to think of significant names that are still on RAW besides Alexa Bliss and sort of Becky Lynch. I just feel that it is odd to add the majority of your big names to the show that has less time to work with.

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

I also noticed that The Riott Squad was split up during this draft, which is a shame. The faction of Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, and Liv Morgan were never given the opportunity to shine atop the division. They were used as enhancement talent in the most literal sense of the term, only used when WWE needed to portray the dominance of the main event players. But as a unit, they worked flawlessly together, and they had excellent tag team offense. I guess we should have taken it as a sign when they were taken out of the women’s tag team title picture immediately after Elimination Chamber. Despite being underutilized, I do think the Riott Squad deserve a load of credit for making the best of the cards they were dealt from the beginning of their main roster careers in WWE.

Switching gears, an additional negative apart from the results of the Shakeup is the push for Lacey Evans. Yawn. I’m so tired!! Lacey is the same as every other white, blonde, heel woman on the roster, only the twist this time is that she’s Southern. But if you were to compare the heel gimmicks of Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, Charlotte Flair, etc. — at the core of their characters, could you truly find that many differences? They are all arrogant, they all think they are “chosen” in some way, they all think they’re the hottest things since Playboy, and they all believe they are above the rest of the women because of either their sass or their class. But each of them have merely found a different trait to fixate on and exaggerate, and/or found a different aesthetic to present their gimmicks. But at the end of the day, they are all nearly the same person. And as I’ve said, it is tiresome to see them constantly in the main event.

In addition, WWE choosing to push Lacey Evans further exposes what I have noticed is another pattern with blonde white women: WWE Creative, and in turn fans, are more willing to be patient with them.

Image credit: sportskeeda.com

WWE is more willing to give white women the ball and let them run with it until they improve in the ring, rather than give the ball to a more ring-savvy woman of color. Many popular wrestling critics online (namely white and male ones) will make excuses for these women when they are gifted their places at the top. When the pushes for these women begin, they will say that they have killer mic skills, or that they ooze charisma, or that they have potential to develop in the ring — even if they are green in the ring at that time. WWE Creative in turn allows these women to skate by on mediocrity, giving them time and space at the top of the card to develop their in-ring skills. They’ve used this strategy with Alexa, with Carmella, with Mandy Rose (until plans changed), and even with the legendary Trish Stratus. Now, they are doing it with Lacey.

Obviously all of these women rose to the occasion after several months of high-profile matches. But I wonder how much more fleshed out the division would look and feel if we afforded women of color that same opportunity to grow at the top as many of the aforementioned women are.

The Thorny
As the wrestling world is well-aware by now, rumors have been swirling since WrestleMania about Sasha Banks’ dissatisfaction with WWE. I’ve followed this story so closely that I am unsure what is even truth or innuendo anymore, yet my opinion has remained the same. I am firmly on Sasha’s side.

As many of you might have deduced by my salutation at the end of every Nylons, I am a Sasha Banks fan. However, regardless of my feelings about Sasha as WWE Superstar or human being, I still believe that to be critical of Sasha in this circumstance is not only malicious, but hypocritical.

Some people have said that Sasha (and Bayley, by association) was acting childishly for her protest against dropping the tag titles, after seemingly being promised a lengthy title run. Some fans have accused Sasha of being entitled by taking a vacation after WrestleMania to consider her future in WWE. But were these not the same fans that dragged WWE through the mud before WrestleMania after one John Oliver segment? Did all of Oliver’s statements somehow become not true between then and now? Because if WWE still treats their performers like employees, even though they contractually are not considered to be, if they still do not provide health insurance — why should Sasha have to smile and be thankful for the mere opportunity to wrestle for WWE exclusively, especially if they aren’t even using her to her full potential? Why should she put up with all of the other crappy technicalities of being signed by WWE if they mostly just keep her around so she doesn’t go anywhere else?

I want to take a moment to step in Sasha’s shoes here. Let’s try to empathize with her.

Imagine you have worked to become a wrestler since you were a teenager. You overcame poverty and living in hotel rooms with your single mother and autistic sibling to make it to WWE. Then, you have an amazing run in NXT where you were at the tippity-top of the division. Once you are called up to the main roster, fans are ecstatic, and they chant “We want Sasha” when they are bored with the women they see in the ring, whoever they may be.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

You win your first main roster title after one year on the main roster, and then you lose it one month later. Okay, can’t win them all. Then you win the title back. Awesome! You’re a two-time champ now. But then you lose it again a month later, again at a pay-per-view. This happens for a third time. The fourth time you win the title, you lose it after just 8 days. After this, you sort of just exist in the women’s division. Fans start to cool off on you.

Then it looks like you might have a feud with your NXT rival. There’s no way WWE could mess this up, right? Only they do. They start the feud then stop it again. They send you to “counseling.” Then they put the two of you in a tag team, and while it isn’t ideal, you make the best of it and actually begin to see a long-term plan: to start a women’s tag division. After months of badgering higher-ups, your dream comes to fruition, and the titles become a reality. You win the titles and promise to defend them everywhere. It looks like WWE is finally going to give you a long title reign.

But then, at the last moment before the biggest show of the year, you find out that not only will you lose the titles, but that the team that you worked so hard to build is being broken up. And the titles are being put on two less experienced in-ring workers. Another short title reign. Another opportunity to shine ripped away before you could even get started.

Given all that you — Sasha — have been through, do you believe you would be anything less than pissed off?

For all of the protest that Sasha and Bayley displayed in the wake of their loss, everything that they feared would happen is coming true.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

The IIconics have the titles, but outside of the first match they worked after Mania (a comedy squash match at that), every match they have competed in thus far on TV they have lost. The belts are merely props for them. We could have had so much more with Sasha and Bayley.

And to those that say they are acting entitled, I say, so what if they are? Why can’t women be entitled to more?

Men in the wrestling industry have been infamously entitled. There are stories of male wrestlers who just flat out refused to lay down for certain people (like Hulk Hogan). There are wrestlers that we praise today that were notoriously awful to work with backstage at certain points in their careers (like Shawn Michaels). There are men that made it a point to stay perched at the top for several years at a time (like Triple H). And there are men today that have openly alluded to their discontent with their booking, such as The Revival and the recently departed Luke Harper, that are applauded for taking a stand. CM Punk is still an urban legend in WWE lore.

So why is it suddenly problematic when a woman does the same? When men stand up against personal injustices, they are martyrs. When women stand up against personal injustices, they are entitled.

And look, as more has come out about this story, I have reformulated my thoughts on it. I do think that Bayley and Sasha, after all that they’ve been through together, might fare better on their own. Their partnership really became codependent, and having to work their gimmicks around each other truly held both of them back. Their characters are simply oil and water, and I think in the long term re-building their gimmicks separately will help to establish them as the strong singles competitors they were always meant to be. And with Ronda Rousey out of the picture for the foreseeable future, for Sasha, this could be her chance to have the substantial women’s title run she’s been vying for.

But, that idea holds true if and only if WWE puts in the work to rehabilitate her character, and put her in a main event feud with a significant title reign. Can we trust them to do that? Maybe we should ask Asuka…

Well. Looks like we’re right back at square one.

***

Now that the Shakeup is over, we can begin the next chapter in all of these women’s stories. Time will tell if for most of them it is a chance to write their stories anew. Or if for others, if they must close the book altogether.

Stay legit bossy,
AC